1 – Right Now. On Aaron Bushnell’s sacrificial act

By Antonio

The genocide of Gazans has for months already been soul crushing to watch from afar (of course, nothing compared to experiencing it). For months I have spent nearly every day learning of some new atrocities, every day looking at my own child and imagining the horrors facing so many Palestinian parents and children. The seeming unstoppability of Israel’s aggression and our country’s elites’ willingness to support it only adds to regular feelings of dread, horror, and impotence.

And then came Aaron Bushnell’s self-immolation on February 25, 2024.

Aaron was an enlisted member of the US Air Force, but had developed a radical anti-imperial politics through his time serving, and was active in mutual aid projects and online anarchist spaces. Setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy, he made clear his call for a Free Palestine, shouted as he took his last breaths. 

Aaron was a comrade, no longer willing to be complicit. He was caught in a situation of having signed away his life to the US military industrial complex, which was about to assign his work and skills to support Israel in its genocide and ethnic cleansing of Gaza. There are solid arguments against killing oneself as a political act, and I am not suggesting self-sacrifice is the ‘right choice’ for action: if he had not chosen this way, perhaps Bushnell would have continued to struggle against the military and contributed his heart and soul to liberation movements over many decades. 

But we should recognize that historical change is not linear, we never know what the effects of our actions are, and we shouldn’t rush to judge another’s actions. People around the world are now celebrating Aaron as a representation that even US Americans can stand against empire, and that’s worth something. His action has also catalyzed much discussion and reflection domestically about what we all could do to stop US/Israeli impunity.

His words (posted online days before his act) strike my heart many times over:

“Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’ The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.”

I am guessing many of you out there are struggling with this like I am: what could I possibly do to interfere with this genocide? How can I do something that wouldactually change the situation, since marches and petitions seem so inadequate to the task? I have gone to protests against Zionists, port shutdowns, and marches when I can; I write to awful Zionist politicians who I highly doubt will care about my postcards and emails (but I do it nonetheless).

We shouldn’t have to kill ourselves to make change (and I truly believe we are all more valuable to the world alive than dead), but Aaron’s example shows that sometimes, extreme situations call for extreme responses. And that extreme responses can catalyze discussion and action more than the socially-acceptable forms of “politics” we are encouraged to prioritize.

Why aren’t more people responding outside of those forms? Why am I not doing more radical acts of direct action, of sabotage, of afflicting those who are inflicting harm, of laying my body on the line? Like many, I have my excuses. We should not act from guilt, but neither should we expect change to come without being uncomfortable, or inconvenienced, or put at risk.

Ultimately, my own barriers to action seem mostly a matter of disconnection: I don’t want to act alone, and need to find my people and get organized.

I have begun to organize with a Palestine Liberation Collective at my workplace (which is a start, but I don’t think we’ll be occupying our boss’s office just yet). What I (and I think many people) really need is a like-minded group of people who want to do more. Mutual encouragement, a feeling of belonging, a dismantling – act by act – of our own alienation.

It’s time (as if it ever stopped being time) to form affinity groups and get creative, and get confrontational. Confront war profiteers at their fancy dinners. Confront our locally elected assholes like State Senator Scott Wiener and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín at their fundraising events. Confront military recruitment centers, Elbit Systems weapons producers, and the tech companies actively censoring pro-Palestine content on social media and elsewhere.

People are rightfully livid about this ongoing genocide, and I think they (we!) are ready for more intense and extreme ways to fight back. The radical right knows how to radicalize their base – why doesn’t the radical left?? But let’s radicalize with values of care, dignity and solidarity, and with a vision of a world without wars, prisons, politicians and settler colonies. Let’s remind people – as Aaron Bushnell has with one selfless act – that when another world exists in our hearts, the world outside us cannot stay as it is forever. 

We simply need to keep our hearts whole, keep our vision clear, keep our friends and communities close, and act fiercely and autonomously. You never know what may come of it. 

With deep mourning for the 30,000 Palestinian martyrs (and counting), R.I.P. Aaron, and all others who refuse to accept this awful world as it is.